Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Rare Frown at a Cardinal

There is a bill before the Ontario Legislature today called the "Accepting Schools Act". While it isn't a national issue and I try to stay within my own province, the bill came to my attention today when a buddy of mine sent me a link about protests of the bill on the Legislature grounds. Among the leaders of the protests are Thomas Cardinal Collins, Cardinal Archbishop for Toronto. His grievance? The bill would allow students at all schools receiving funds from the Province of Ontario to form clubs similar to what is known as the Gay Straight Alliance - a group built on finding common ground between heterosexuals and their homosexual friends.

The main problem is that public schools are governmental entities. Not allowing groups such as the GSA to form chapters in their schools would be a violation of their Section Two rights. There's a concern that this would also affect catholic private schools, since many do in fact receive provincial funding.

Here's my take: your religious freedoms (under Section Two) as an institution don't trump the rights of your students. If you want to take provincial funding, you must be willing to accept that there is an extent to which the government has to cover their liability. Charter Rights only apply to protecting you from government action. If His Eminence would prefer not to allow his students to form these groups, he is more than welcome to refuse the provincial funding.

What's more, the Gay Straight Alliance is being misrepresented as an organization that promotes homosexuality. While there's a way to make that argument, it's intellectually dishonest. The state goals of the GSA is to promote tolerance of all sexualities. That is to say, as an anti-bullying group, their aim is to prevent harassment. It is an exercise in politeness, a value I rarely get to harp about given how rough-around-the-edges I usually am. We can ask the students to change the name if you like, but there's nothing any thinking catholic (or any other Christian, for that matter) should find objectionable in their aims.

I admit that I stand well to the left of the Church on just about everything. Let's take as read that homosexuality is immoral... so is bullying. We can't pick and choose our favourite evils. If a group wants to cut down bullying, let them cut down ALL of it.

The benefits of a Transuranic IQ.

This article's a little tongue-in-cheek, but I suppose most of them are, by now. I'm always forgetting the last digit, but I have an IQ in the 120 range. That's not really a mark of intelligence on its own, of course (you need education and knowledge retention for that), but as an indicator of the capacity to learn an adapt, it's an all right measure.

This is, however, a problem to many of my instructors. When faced with a question I do not know the answer for (typically because I was working when the lesson was taught), I can usually derive it. While fields without a lot of rigour require educated guesses, fields involving maths (as most of mine are) can often find precise answers with imprecise methods. It is possible, for example, to derive on-the-spot a formula for calculating compound interest that strongly resembles the textbook formula and yields the same answer.

It makes them crazy. And if they happen to wander into me outside of the school, they universally comment upon it. Comments range from innocuous compliments to sarcastic comments about being even better in sales than I am in (insert instructor's field here). It should be noted that with a single exception I have above-average marks in all courses, and in the case of that exception, my grades, while below mean, are certainly above the actual median.

It's not the marks that are bothering me. It's the continued insistence by parties on both sides that I should be ignoring the one for the other. Economics instructors who are firmly convinced that students simply should not be employed, both for the purposes of calculating unemployment margins and the purposes of practical academia. This would be true, I suppose, if I couldn't actually handle it. Work has affected my ability to handle my course-load, but the impact has not been negative. In fact, my assignment completion ratios have actually increased across all courses since taking the job at Teavanna.

There's two reasons for that. The first is that, on any given shift of greater than seven hours, I get a lunch break that I usually use to stuff my face and then work on one assignment or another. The other is that, if I'm not at the school and being bored by the subject matter all day, it's much easier to focus on the part of my schooling that actually matters: the assignments that make up our marks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Open Questions for Christians of Any Stripe

Reconciling  faith with what one believes personally can be a challenge if one is new to faith. For one thing, my mind is ill-conditioned to accept blindly things which can be given no evidence beyond a reasoned argument. Indeed, while I have come to accept room for divinity in my world view, and even (with suspension of various usual requirements) accepted that, in want of historical accuracy, the bible has allegorical-spiritual accuracy, I still have problems with various things taught in Christian churches and households of most any denomination. I always seek to understand that which I do not rather than dismiss it as fallacious or flawed. This is a founding tenant of science and to be unscientific in the age of the atom, instantaneous global telecommunication, and orbital flight.

In the spirit of understanding, and of dispelling the idea of denominational validity, I leave these questions as open ones for Christians of any stripe, be they orthodox or heterodox, catholic or protestant, layman or cleric. Just as one does not need to be a physicist to understand the basics of physics, one should not need to be a theologian to study the basics of theology. While I rarely do this, and indeed abhor the practice of chain-letters, I ask that those who see this post and answer it at least consider anyone they know who might wish to weigh in.

1. Why do we obey only certain injunctions from the Old Testament, particularly regarding homosexuality?

The most-used verse to defend views against homosexuality comes from Leviticus, written to the levites, which is the source in large part of the old Jewish laws. A common counterpoint used to disagree with this injunction has always been to ask the person holding the believe whether or not they carry out any other act thus forbidden, most commonly the eating of shellfish.

The appropriate response, as I understand it, is that Christ has created a new covenant with man (through his salvation of mankind) and that the old laws no longer apply to the gentiles. Indeed, as Christians, one could argue we have been set free of them. In all four gospels, I cannot find one word spoken through Christ which suggests that homosexuality remains among the list of offences counted as sins. Indeed, such an injunction almost seems to violate the Golden Rule.

Why did Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, then decide to keep this specific injunction? Remember that paul was not given the keys to the kingdom, nor is he drawing from any evident word of Christ. Was this a personal preference? Bearing that possibility in mind, the above question practically begs an answer.

2. How do we justify our artificial separation?
I hear a lot of talk among Catholics about apostolic succession; and indeed it was mainly that concept that drew me to the church above all others. The idea that a line could form, unbroken, through the consecration of priests right up on through the ages and back to the apostles, if certainly a powerful sign. However, it has failed to quell a larger problem that I am only just coming to understand.

Christ essentially declared that there should be one church. Now, various denominations will make claims to being the only true church and Roman Catholicism is certainly very good at that. However, the word catholic is usually interpreted as "universal". Indeed, Christ did not seem to intend a universal authority but merely that "where one or two gather in My name, so am I there among them". With this in mind it is difficult to view the seperation of the denominations as anything other than artificial seperations, formed in the midst of disputes, and counter to the spirit of Christian Unity. This is an issue of particular importance, all things considered. Why is it only now, in the age long past that of the Enlightenment, that the churches are only just starting to try and rectify this, and why are the protestant churches being largely ignored in ecumenalism, and only the Catholics and the Orthodox trying to re-united.

I don't want to sound overly new-age, but it seems to me that this should be done in full rather than as a half-measure.

3. How do we justify a lack of biblical literalism?

This actually seems to be the easiest for me. I am willing to accept that a work can be divinely inspired and still errant. After all, if God had gifted ancient man with the knowledge of the true topography of the universe, he might have caused quite a few to go (or at least seem) mad. We deal now routinely with numbers for which the ancient world had no concept. With distances thought impossible. With continents unrealized. A round earth never would have occurred to Ezekiel, and I seriously doubt that if you asked the authors of Genesis to count from one to a million, never mind a billion, or to somehow understand the concept of natural selection, they would actually come to terms with it.

I am willing to accept allegorical and metephorical interpretations. After all, Christ did so love his parables, and the knowledge which must be sought through difficulty is the easiest to retain (though hardest, obviously, to obtain).

Still, there are denominations, and even camps in Catholicism, that would call me a heretic for holding the view that the bible could possibly be wrong in any way. Well, to be fair, these days they'd say I wasn't really Christian, but they mean heretic. Can a defence be made, on biblical grounds alone, for the genesis account quite simply being, well, wrong?

4. Why do many denominations insist on political homogeneity?
Many denominations seem to insist that you "ain't right if you ain't Right-wing", to put words into various mouths. Indeed, I seem to be a rarity among both North American Christians and converts from atheism to Christianity in being that I'm a centrist - or, perhaps more accurately, socially left and economically right.

While I don't expect each and every one of you do be a right-wing figure, nor do I encourage it, or discourage it, I am curious. I can accept a certain amount of vote-your-morals. After all, if they really are your morals, you should be willing to stand up to them.

What I don't get is churches (and this is largely true among southern US catholics and protestants across that country) insisting on intervening on non-moralistic matters in politics - most notably in the global warming "debate", which isn't so much debate as one side providing scientific evidence and the other side plugging their ears. What authority are they on non-moralistic matters? Taking, as issues, subjects like nuclear disarmament, stem cell research, and abortion are all well and understandable. Meddling in economics and earth sciences, or calling for military expansion, are not.

Indeed, I've actually heard pastors decry socialism from the pulpit, though I thank some Grace of God that mine has never done such a thing. As you might have read before, I find it difficult to reconcile the idea that a proper Christian could be anti-socialist.

At any rate, these four questions ought to suit us for now. I thank in advance everyone that responds, though I'll likely re-respond, knowing me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Draw Muhammed Day

Those who know me by now realize that I have a tendency to follow Dr. Philip Mason's video blogs (thunderf00t and beautyintheuniverse on YouTube - both excellent channels deserving attention), and I generally tend to agree with his social and scientific arguments, even if I don't always grant his premise. However, there's one initiative he's supporting that I just categorically disagree with: the second (or is it third?) annual Draw Muhammed Day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Salute to Anonymity!

Recently, I've had an anonymous commenter that I haven't quite been able to pin down. I assume it is merely one author because the four comments I'm referring to all have much the same weight and direction to them, and Occam's Razor dictates that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

In any event I wish to acknowledge and thank this contributor or contributors. I've asked those who I know read the blog regularly (about four of you out of the fourty or so hits I receive on an update date), and unfortunately none of you were who I was after. This brings to mind the V for Vendetta quote about the irony of asking a masked man his name, naturally, but you can't blame a guy for asking.

In either event, Anonymous (AKA Another Who Asks), I salute you. Thanks for the occasionally cryptic but always relevant support. You get a big fat kudos.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

12th Century Faith in a 21st Century World

Sometimes I wonder what compelled me to run headlong into the Church the way I did. Those who've been around here for a while know that the religion thing wasn't deep-seated in my childhood, but something I arrived at over the last few years slowly.

It all started with a late-night shower and the sudden realization, upon pondering the Big Bang and some physical laws, that the mathematical impossibility of arriving at the state of the universe prior to the Big Bang leaves a comfortable gap for divinity to rest in, something I already understood to be true given that science deals exclusively with the natural and therefore cannot say anything about the physical. There was room for God in my life, and as long as we're being honest, I've always needed something to believe in.

The problem I arrive at is that I pretty much live on the internet in my downtime, and the internet is, as Thunderf00t so often says, where religion comes to die. Not that I think religion needs to die, per-se, but it is difficult to avoid logical fallacy when asked any variant of the question "Why God?", or its popular cousin "Why Jesus?"

First admission: I never calculated a proof for God's existence. I merely convinced myself that there is room in my world-view for the supernatural, and let enter what forces may.

Second admission: Arriving not only at the God of Abraham but at Christianity specifically probably has more to do with socio-political forces surrounding my upbringing and my day-to-day life than any reasoned study. My readings of the Qu'ran and the Talmud have been cursory at best, and wanderings beyond the scope of Abrahamic religions have all been limited to academic curiosities rather than any serious study?

So, why Christianity? Because it works for me. Community is important to spiritual growth and it would be pointless to declare myself to be, say, an Eighth-Dynasty Egyptian Revivalist Neopagan in a community with few enough neopagans (and those we have are more nordic if anything). Christian Parables are the ones I know and the stories are ones I've heard, admittedly in the context of being stories and not history, basically since childhood. I can stand behind the precepts without standing behind the lore.

I am, however, one of the first to admit my faith is young, unformed, and dwindling. Gone is the raging inferno of RCIA and the heady glow of post-confirmation. For my mildly introverted self, Mass is yet a chore that my early-morning personality can't yet stomach. Prayer is reserved for thanksgiving or please-asking, the latter being something I promised myself I'd never do. Belief in God is exclusively reserved for manic moments and exists in abstract alone on down-turning cycles. Bottles of holy water from Easter and various religious texts go untouched for weeks at a time, then pursued for moments before returning to the mundane world.

The chief problem is a reluctance to release the products of the Enlightenment in order to embrace what are always known as the Hard Sayings of the bible. Call it vain, but I believe I have an above average intellect, and I believe that, God being the Creator, I would not have this intellect if I was not intended to use it in some way. Perhaps it is a case of me being a literalism, or my new-age upbringing, but I have difficulty conflating the commandments of Christ from the Gospels to the commandments from God in Leviticus, and being the hippy-dippy centre-left small-l liberal that I am, I'm more inclined to follow the former.

The problem is that the Church I've aligned myself with has serious deficiencies, in my mind, in rationalizing the new-covenant problem. Is closeness to life in cases where rape is occurring anyway a wrongness greater than the spread of an epidemic, which could be prevented by that closedness? Is keeping atheists from engaging in gay marriages a bigger issue than reunifying the Church and healing thousands of years of internal conflicts? How can moral law be imposed upon those who have different morals?

If we cannot accept the imposition of Sharia, how can we accept the imposition of Leviticus? Was the old covenant not fulfilled by the arrival of the messiah?

You have to be a theologian to answer these questions. I don't have that kind of time.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Best Homicide Charge EVER

Every now and then you read something that brings the rest of your plans to the day grinding to a halt, particularly in the blogging world. While I was going to take the time today to announce I'd be taking a hiatus, today, I changed my mind after having read about Alexandria V. Tobias.

The 22-year-old mother is awaiting trial in Florida after having shaken her baby to death. Shaken baby syndrome is nothing new and neither is infanticide. What makes this story truly bizarre is her self-admitted motive, the factor that pushed her over the edge and caused her to kill her 3-year-old son in what was essentially cold blood.

He interrupted her regular daily playing of Farmville, one of many facebook games.

Now, and I think wisely, the Jacksonville prosecutor is going for the throat and charging Tobias with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence for a penalty, in the appropriate jurisdiction. The justification always given for Infanticide having a penalty lower than other forms of homicide has always been that some women experience such severe post-partum mental imbalances that it essentially can't be helped. It was their fault, sure, and they should pay for it, but let's let them off early because they aren't entirely to blame.

If anyone else wanted to use the mental imbalance excuse, they'd usually be taken to a mental hospital instead of a prison, and held for the full time of their imprisonment.

Good for you, Florida. Never thought I'd see something so satisfying come out of a Red State.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some Favourite Blends from Teavanna

I'm hoping to do a semi-regular tea feature around here these days, but I should point something out: namely that I work for Teavanna. Now, admittedly, I don't get paid for these advertisements and my pay is exactly the same regardless of whether you get these blends or something else. I just want to share a few favourites I've discovered over time.

Today, I want to introduce you to a favourite hot and cold blend of each class of tea that we carry.

Primary White Teas
Earl Grey White with Silver Zhen Yen Pearl - A double-hit of white teas with a rich bergamot aroma, lending fantastic citrus pop. Properly energizing and refreshing with a minimum of caffeine and maximized Antioxidant content for detoxifying and hydrating the body. Also known as my "Start" blend. Simple flavour to smoothly slide into the day.

Iced Youthberry with Raspberry Lemon Riot Mate - Marvellously refreshing berries and citrus combine with energizing Yerba Mate for a satisfying, refreshing, and punchy beverage that's great on a sunny afternoon.

Primary Green Teas
Gyokoro Imperial with Silver Needle -  Top grade, Imperial Reserve Japanese greens deserver to speak on their own level, and the subtlety of the silver needle white really allows the vegetal tones of the Gyokoro to speak on their own while relaying the benefits and subtleties of a white. A serene blend for afternoon relaxation.

Jingaa Citrus Twist and Morrocan Mint Iced Tea - A double-green iced that's marvellous on the hotest of days. Citrus and Mint combine to create a relaxing, restorative balm for the parched drinker.

Primary Oolongs
Monkey Picked Oolong with Lemon Lime Kampai Rooibos - The subtle and mellow flavour of this Top Ten tea of China lends well to blending, lending remarkable flexibility to the metabolic benefits of a sumptuous oolong. The equally subtle lemon-lime flavour of the rooibos lends itself well to such a humble tea, and this relaxing after-dinner cuppa is a fantastic digestif.

Shape-Up Blend - Served iced, this refreshing blend of Six Summits Oolong, Weight-to-Go, Black Dragon Pearl, and Raspberry Lemon Riot Mate provides the benefits of a natural encouragement to weight loss with the smooth refreshment of an ice tea. A great mid-run beverage.

Primary Black Teas
Golden Monkey with MateVana - Coffee drinkers find their first refuge in the leaf among this rich and smooth blend. The mocha aroma of the MateVana highlights the natural cocoa undertones of this heady top-flight black. Rich and energizing, this perfect morning blend will get even the most die-hard of coffee drinkers energized in the morning, and it helps augment heart health and appetite, making it a fantastic start to the working day.

WeightToGo Pu-erh and Strawberry Paraiso Iced Tea - A fantastic blend of the anti-oxidant rich white teas and the slimming benefits of a top-flight Pu-erh. The berry complexities allow a nice, subtle-sweet iced with an energizing result.

Primary Tisanes
Azteca Fire and Cocoa Mint Black - Rich cocoa with a splash of mint and spice to wake it up. Fantastically warming in these bitter-cold late spring nights.

Sevenberry Sangria and Strawberry Lemonade Iced - Naturally Caffine-Free and marvellously child-friendly iced teas are a wonderful benefit of the Tisane world. Healthier than commercial juices and soda, this wonderfully fruity blend will get even the youngest and most picky child away from her sugary drinks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Coming Soon

In the following week or two:
  • Commentary on the House Bill C-38
  • Commentary on the Liturgy of the Hours
  • A Few Selections from the Teahouse.
Full Disclosure: I am a paid employee of Teavanna. I am not compensated in any way for any mention of the company or product on this page. I simply believe quite strongly in the product offered.